Warning: Digital Tsunami Over the Publishing World!

Digital RevolutionImage by charlesdyer via Flickr
This week NYT bestseller author Barry Eisler walked away from a $500,000 advance from his publisher, St. Martin's Press, because he's going to self-publish his next book (one of a successful series) in digital form. And within days, famous indie publisher Amanda Hocking who made more than one million in self-publishing her YA paranormal trilogy on Kindle and other e-readers, got an advance of over $2 million for her next 4 books from... guess who? The St. Martin's Press.

That caused an unprecedented tsunami both in the printed media and the blogosphere. All aspiring writers and newbies are salivating and publishers are pulling their hair. I've listed some of the more interesting blogs and articles below, and here is my own take on it.

Can publishers prevent the likes of Eisler from walking away? No, I don't think so. Is this a real problem? Probably not. Let's face it, not too many authors are like Eisler. You can walk away ONLY IF you have an ESTABLISHED MARKET for your books, in short lots of fans that make it worthwhile for you to walk away.The rest of us, especially newbies that have no particular presence online (or elsewhere) will always need to go the "legacy publisher route", at least for their first few novels.

Non-fiction is another story: if you have a good "platform" (for example, you're a university professor, a well-known researcher,a successful actor, in short an authority or a celebrity), you can jump straight into e-book self-publishing.

Does that mean it's the end of legacy publishers? Not at all. Setting aside for a moment our fascination for all things digital, let's remember that traditional books in paper have several advantages over digital books, and will retain them FOREVER:
1. they're nice objects to own and decorate your home with (they feel good to hold in your hands, they can have pretty covers); you can take them with you in your bathtub;
2. you can use them for gifts; you can get them signed ;
3. they're much easier to share with friends and family than e-books;
4. they're testimony to your tastes and show everyone who you are through what you read; nobody can bandy about e-books and for some people that's a distinct disadvantage for the digital;
5. they're easy to use as reference: just flip the pages and come to your favorite quotation, or (woe!) write in the margins, underline, stick a note in, fold the corners; this is especially true for non-fiction but even "great" novels are nice to have around for easy reference...

Publishers (and literary agents) take heart, your days aren't over yet! And look at Amanda Hocking: here is a tale to warm your hearts. Like in the song "Pretty Woman", she's walked by you, but no, there she stops and changes her mind: "Yeah! She's walking back to me!!!"

So we get to the next big question: can we expect unpublished authors, i.e. newbies with no legacy and zero Internet presence, to earn more money going the self-publishing route? No, I don't think so.

Indeed, I am convinced e-publishing is a lure, a mirage, a false promise and newbies should beware!

Consider those who've "made it" digitally: they are either (at a minimum) so-called "mid list authors", i.e. people who have published fairly successful books without ever reaching top rankings but who, overtime, have developed a loyal following of readers and managed a fair online presence; or extraordinary, meteor-like new authors that punch through unexpectedly, like Amanda Hocking. But Amanda Hocking is a self-confessed avid Twitter! She has a big on line presence! People who make it this way all have a strong online presence and, above all, Internet social networking savvy. These are people who blog, face-book and twitter all day long (or seem to). Hardly ordinary folks!

Sure, if you're a successful blogger, twitter etc, you can make it.

But what, at a minimum, can be considered a "successful blogger"? Look at Nathan Bransford's blog numbers, and you'll get an idea. See how many fans he's got (and had before he became a YA author himself). Ok, you don't need as big a blog as his - and indeed Google gives you an idea of what size needs to be reached to "have an online presence". Along with their Adsense (a gadget to allow advertising on their site), they give out numbers that are very interesting: from them, it is possible to evince that a blog makes a (small) amount of advertising money only if it reaches 1,000 hits a day! So, all ye bloggers out there and would-be authors, get ready to reach 1,000 hits a day! Btw, that means having at least 100 pageviews a day - a different statistic: it means people have actually stayed on your site and read something! And out of those 100, not everyone will go out and buy your book...

Just thought I'd mention those numbers to make it clear how difficult it is to emerge from the mass of e-book publications: it's already a tsunami out there (Kindle alone has well over 500,000 titles!)

Then there are other necessary strategies to "make" it into digital publishing: (1) pick a genre that sells well and stick to it; (2) be ready with more than one title - five or six is best! Amanda Hocking started with a clear successful genre and had a trilogy going just for starters; (3) work out a pricing strategy: $0,99 to launch the book, then raise the price up incrementally to around $4 and then lower again if your perceive your sales slowing down...You have to be real good at gaging what the "traffic will bear".

Hey, newbie, are you ready with all that? And its a lot: you need to belong to a fast-selling genre, to have half-a-dozen books ready, to have a fair and rising on line presence, to exercise marketing control over your sales...I can't say I am!

Do check out the following posts and articles on the subject that are all extremely illuminating:
1. Jane Friedman's:
2. The Shatzkin files
3. Zoe Winters on e-book pricing
4. Mary Kole (Andrea Brown Literary Agency) on role of literary agents
5. Carolyn McKray's Tips for making your book a success on Amazon
6. New York Times article: Amanda Hocking sells book series to St. Martin's Press
7. What it takes to become a brand name: Wall Street Journal The Case of the Best-selling Author
8. Dean Wesley Smith: Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing: the Myth of Security

Happy reading!
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